Types of Physical Therapy

There are many specialty areas in the field of physical therapy. Although these areas are well known throughout the profession, it is often overlooked by the general public. Here is a brief description of the most common specialty areas in physical therapy and find out which is most appropriate for you or your family member.

Orthopedic physical therapy

It is the diagnosis, management, and treatment for disorders and injuries of the musculoskeletal system as well as rehabilitation of patients’ post-orthopedic surgery. This specialty is most often found in the out-patient clinical setting. Orthopedic therapists are trainied in the treatment of post-operative joints, acute sports injuries, arthritis, and amputations just to name a few.

Common modalities used to expedite recovery are joint mobilization, strength training, hot and cold packs, and electrical stimulation. Those who have suffered injury or disease affecting the muscles, bones, ligaments, or tendons of the body would benefit from assessment by a physical therapist specialized in orthopedics.

Geriatric physical therapy

This area covers a wide area of issues concerning people as they go through normal adult aging, but is usually focused on the older adult. There are many conditions that affect people as they grow older and that includes (but not limited to) arthritis, osteoporosis, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, hip and join replacement, balance disorders, and incontinence.

Geriatric physical therapy helps those affected with such problems in developing a specialized program to help restore mobility, reduce pain, increase fitness levels, and more.

Neurological physical therapy

This is a discipline focused on working with individuals who have a neurological disorder or disease. These include Alzheimer’s disease, ALS, brain injury, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury, and stroke.

Common problems of patients with such disorders include paralysis, vision impairment, poor balance, inability to ambulate, and loss of functional independence. Therapists work with patients to improve these areas of dysfunction.

Cardiovascular and pulmonary rehabilitation

CPR therapists treat a wide variety of patients with cardio-pulmonary disorders or those who have had cardiac or pulmonary surgery. Primary goals of this specialty include increasing patient endurance and functional independence.

Manual therapy is utilized in this field to assist in clearing lung secretions experienced in patients with cystic fibrosis. Patients with disorders including heart attacks, post-coronary bypass surgery, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and pulmonary fibrosis are only a few examples of those who would benefit from this.

Pediatric physical therapy

It is the assistance in early detection of health problems and uses a wide variety of modalities to treat disorders in the pediatric population. These therapists are specialized in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of infants, children, and adolescents with a variety of congenital, developmental, neuromuscular, skeletal, or acquired disorders or diseases.

Treatments focus on improving gross and fine motor skills, balance and coordination, strength, and endurance as well as cognitive and sensory processing/ integration. Patients include children with developmental delays, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, and torticollis.


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